Jaimie Musen stops to admire summer fireweed at Engineer Lake. (Photo by USFWS)
After a weekend of camping at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, return to work on Monday spiritually charged and refreshed. Your brain may feel less overwhelmed and overloaded. Some of your usual pains might even feel better!
The positive health changes that many people feel after spending a weekend outdoors aren’t necessarily just happening in your head.
Before accepting a seasonal job as a park ranger at the refuge, I worked as a physical therapist for six years. Being a physical therapist means spending a lot of time teaching people how to improve their health, including coaching people in exercises and activities they can do outdoors.
However, all of my clinic jobs have been indoors, with limited access to outdoor recreation spaces. As such, I found it difficult to bridge the gap between the brief blocks of time a patient would spend in a windowless clinic and a patient’s remaining free time that they could potentially spend outdoors.
I am a strong believer in conventional physical therapy treatment and have seen many of my patients achieve tremendous transient improvements within the confines of an indoor clinic. However, I found that patients who were most successful in their long-term recovery often conformed to a common pattern that stretched well beyond the clinic.
A case in point is a patient struggling with slow recovery despite pointing out the recommended exercises in their living room or gym. They would then take a two-week vacation, usually outdoors and away from technology.
When they returned to the clinic, they timidly told me they weren’t working on their exercises, but excitedly exclaimed that they were finally feeling much better. Of course, they would still credit physical therapy for relieving their pain, but I was convinced that their time spent connecting with nature was just as beneficial.
The list of physical and mental benefits that come with spending time outdoors is long. After spending a summer working outdoors at the refuge, I’ve experienced some of these benefits on my health as well. Today I’m just highlighting some of the benefits of connecting with nature that I’ve seen in others and in myself.
People can breathe easier in greener spaces. Lung health is significantly better in people who live and recover in green areas than in areas with little green.
Alaskans already have a significant advantage over most parts of the United States in that concrete jungles are almost non-existent. Other benefits include more vegetation and better lung health, such as: B. Lower rates of cancer and kidney disease.
Being outside will help with your future motivation to exercise and exercise more. Outdoor exercise can feel less prescribed and boring than working out at the gym or in a clinic.
Indoor leisure time at home often leads to more couch time cozying up with a bag of your favorite snacks. In contrast, an outdoor activity can be as strenuous as hiking the Skyline Trail or as simple as the physical exertion of setting up a campsite, taking the extra steps to prepare a meal and tidying up outside, and then head out for a walk Adjust your environment around the campsite.
Your mental energy will be restored as you spend time outdoors and unplugged. But unfortunately most of our modern lives have distracting stimuli that lead to a slow and often unnoticed drain of our mental energy. For example, when I was working in clinics with many types of stimuli, I would come home feeling jittery and mentally drained.
A small workspace drew my attention in different directions with fluorescent lights, laptop screens showing instant messages that required immediate responses, and phones ringing and vibrating. While simultaneously caring for two people with different injuries and personalities, I monitored how the intern working alongside me was doing with his two patients.
While some level of mental stimulation is healthy for everyone to keep their brain sharp, your brain still needs periods of rest away from screens and other stimuli to recharge and reboot. When your mind has room to relax, your body also stores less physical tension and pain.
Even if it rains again at the refuge next weekend, your body will thank you if you spend some time outdoors.
Give your lungs some fresh air. Let your eyes focus on trees and hills farther away than your screens. Feel the wet ground beneath your bare feet. Connect with the seasonal changes by taking a slow stroll to admire the colorful foliage and spot creatures preparing for winter.
After spending all of this one weekend at the refuge, chances are you’ll need one fewer doctor’s visit later!
Jaimie Musen is the 2022 Seasonal Park Ranger at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. You may have seen some of the seasonal rangers at a refuge campground or on a local trail this past summer. To learn more about Kenai NWR and upcoming events to connect more with nature, visit kenai.fws.gov or www.facebook.com/kenainationalwildliferefuge. Also see https://www.fws.gov/kenai-refuge-notebook for more Refuge Notebook articles (1999-present).
Fall foliage reveals the changing seasons on the Upper Kenai River Trail. (Photo by USFWS)
Jaimie Musen and visitors on a guided hike along the Skyline Trail after a rain shower. (Photo courtesy of USFWS)